July 20, 2024

Scale Your Influence (Part 1): The Keyword Research Matrix

This post is part 1 of my 3-part series Scale Your Influence.

The goal of this series is to radically shift the way you view making money online so you can scale your influence at startup speed and achieve anything you want with a blogging business.

Creating a profitable personal brand is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle – no two pieces are inherently hard to link together. But if you’re missing just one piece, the whole puzzle will never be solved, no matter how hard you try.

And the problem is, there are too many little pieces, little details, for one person to find them all. There are no careers in “blogging”. No encyclopedias or research papers with the blueprints to become a “professional influencer”.

All you have are “gurus”, so-called experts pushing their version of the American dream. The ones who tell you that you can do nothing and accomplish everything.

They tell you to find your passion, help others, and seek a life of fulfillment – all while working 4 hours a week.

Gurus sell hope, not tactics.

And the truth is, the tactics aren’t complicated, they’re just rarely told in a coherent, actionable way.

Today, I make a great living from this blog because I was lucky enough to piece it all together – I failed a lot, took risks, and finally learned enough to make it work.

I didn’t fail in the past for lack of effort – I failed because I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know. I couldn’t see the puzzle in its entirety. Pieces were missing. I didn’t know the red pill existed.

So I created this 3-part series to crawl under the table and pick up those missing pieces to complete the puzzle for you.

In part one of the series, we’ll uncover the first concept you need to understand to scale your online influence.

Scale Your Influence (Part 1): The Keyword Money Matrix

I’m starting this 3-part series with keyword research.

Keyword research is a foundational piece of the puzzle when choosing your nicheand one of the most difficult and insanity-inducing blogging exercises.

And common marketing advice is like wading through a sea of mediocrity. Most articles that rank on Google today were written over 5 years ago, crafted primarily to get SEO traffic and provide simple advice for a broad audience.

Keyword research is no exception.

For example, if I Google “keyword research”, the top-ranking articles are from the biggest names in SEO like Ahrefs and Moz.

What do they talk about?

Here’s Ahrefs:

Source: Ahrefs

Ahrefs has some very basic content created to rank on search engines. You get a general overview of keyword research written for a broad audience of beginners.

What about Moz’s high-ranking article on keyword research?

Source: Moz

You get a cute little story about Frankie and Jo’s Seattle-based vegan, gluten-free ice cream shop. I’m not even kidding.

Hey Moz, I think their customers are looking for “ice cream near me”. Also, where are the dairy-free options?! Time to move on.

These articles aren’t inherently bad; they simply don’t go deep enough to shift your perspective in a meaningful way. I want to take this basic knowledge and add a layer of actionable clarity on top of it.

So as discussed, keyword research advice is over-complicated, broad, and full of half-truths.

And half-truths lead to people taking half measures.

And unless you’re Walter White, you don’t need to *spoiler alert* run over two drug dealers with your Pontiac Aztek to take back control of your business.

You just need to take full measures on the four things I’ll demystify about keyword research in this guide:

  1. Keyword research is easy.
  2. There are only two types of articles to write.
  3. There are only four groups of keywords to target.
  4. Monetization and keyword research are inseparable.

Let’s get started.

The Problem with “Keyword Research”

We all know that we need to “perform keyword research.”

It’s simple:

Someone thinks of something with their brain, they type it into Google, and when the results pop up, they click on something near the top.

Google searches are literally an extension of human consciousness. We think it, we type it. The Google Gods know all.

In 2019, some of the most popular searches were Disney Plus, Hurricane Dorian, Area 51 raid, and my personal favorite, Baby Yoda.

*I’d love to put a picture of baby Yoda here but I’d probably be sued to oblivion by Disney.* I’ll use this intead:


With keyword research, we’re told to look at SEO metrics like monthly search volume, keyword difficulty, competitor scores, and cost-per-click (CPC) to come up with a “keyword research strategy.”

This means that we find keywords within certain thresholds that look like good opportunities to target.

And with 3.8 million keywords searched every minute, there are quite a few options at our disposal.

So what’s considered good?

5,000 searches per month? Difficulty scores under 50? CPC over $5?

We know to look for keywords that have high search volume and low difficulty scores.

But if we’re trying to make money online by ranking for keywords, how do we perform keyword research with this unlimited number of options?

The metrics only tell us part of the story.

They don’t help us think about WHY we want to rank for the keyword.

As entrepreneurs, the WHY is usually $$$.

Side note: $$$ doesn’t just mean more cash in your bank account; it also builds leverage and becomes a vehicle to grow your online influence and brand authority faster. More on that in part 2.

For example, I could rank for a lot of keywords based on search volume, difficulty, and competition. However, that doesn’t mean that I should.

Would ranking for “how to pet a cat” really move the needle?

(Maybe if I sold cat gloves, you cat glove hater!)

Source: AliExpress

To perform real keyword research, you need to add one extra layer:

The keyword’s purchase intent.

Understanding Purchase Intent.

As a blogger deciding on your niche, you can write about anything you want. Crossfit exercises, dog training, BBQ grilling, golfing, camping, financial services, how Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself, how to deal with your mother-in-law – pretty much anything you can imagine.

And when you finally decide on your niche, you have to come up with blog post ideas – maybe five at first to launch your blog, then 10, maybe all the way up to 100+ blog posts if you’re consistent.

So what the hell do you write about?

How do you avoid the common mistake of “doing” keyword research without monetization in mind?

As you know, I’m all about blogging like a business and making money as priority number one.

To make money, you must be aware of the purchase intent.

Aka: the amount of money you can make from a keyword – it’s transactional value.

Here’s how I sum it up:

Bloggers need to find keywords with purchase intent and affiliate revenue potential.

The good news is they’re super easy to find.

A Quick Primer on How Websites Make Money

When you think about it, websites can only make money four different ways:

  • Products
    • Selling your own products
    • Examples: ecommerce brands, course sales, digital products
  • Affiliate marketing
    • Selling someone else’s products
    • Examples: affiliate links, text ads
  • Services
    • Selling your time
    • Examples: consulting, coaching, hourly work
  • Ad revenue
    • Selling your eyeballs
    • Examples: banner ads, sponsored posts

Any online business is either selling their own product, someone else’s product, their time, or your eyeballs.

That’s it.

And remember, when it comes to keyword research, we’re specifically talking about getting people from a Google search to your website. Not from social media, not clicking between pages on your site, just from Google.

And with Google, the benefit is that we understand search intent – the meaning behind the search. We can plan our blog posts around transactional keywords that people search when they’re looking for something to buy.

That’s why your main monetization focus for keyword research needs to be transactional affiliate marketing keywords.

Here’s why it’s the best form of keyword monetization:

  • Ad revenue is basically a catch-all for articles that can’t be monetized in more lucrative ways.
  • Bloggers don’t have their own products to sell at first, and even if they sell a course, the sales funnel doesn’t include ranking the sales page on Google.
  • Services are usually low volume search terms. Again, the sales funnel usually doesn’t include ranking your service pages on Google.

So if affiliate marketing is the best form of blog monetization, what do you write about?

The Only Two Blog Post Formats You Need

To launch and run a successful blog, you only need two types of articles:

  • Product reviews
  • How-to guides

That’s it. You could create a wildly successful, multi-million dollar blog with just those two post types.

Remember, when performing keyword research, you need to find keywords that can generate revenue. Period. Otherwise, you rank for random keywords that can’t be monetized or only make a small amount of ad revenue.

This is one of the biggest mistakes newbie bloggers make. They write their first 10 posts, but none of them have transactional value, and then they wonder why they’re not making money.

Product reviews are transactional searches that directly generate affiliate income. How-to guides are informational searches that get lots of traffic, build trust, and grow your email list for future sales.

Here’s why these are the only two article types you need (and how keyword research is easy.)

Blogger Keyword Type 1: Product Reviews

Bloggers should conduct keyword research first by finding product-related terms in their niche. These are keywords where searchers are looking for product reviews and usually include the word “best” in them.

Their search intent is transactional.

For example, when you Google “best credit card”, check out what you see:

Best Credit Cards Google Search

All top ranking sites are affiliates – Nerd Wallet, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, USNews, and WalletHub. There’s no Visa, Capital One, Chase, or other banking institution.

It’s dominated by affiliates.

And these affiliates are making money any time that someone signs up for a credit card via one of their affiliate links.

Let’s look at another search for “best running shoes”:

Best Running Shoes Google Search

Again, we see Runner’s World, Fleet Feet, and Running Shoes Guru. There’s no mention of Nike, Adidas, Brooks, or other running brands.

Let’s do one more. How about a business term like “webinar software”:

Yet again, we see bloggers dominating. Growth Marketing Pro, yours truly, G2 (a popular review site), GoToMeeting (the first actual brand), and then Capterra, another review blog.

Why is this?

Internet users searching for product categories are looking for trustworthy third-party reviews. For these searches, they’re not ready to be taken right to a brand’s product page – they first want in-depth information from a blog.

For example, if they wanted to go right to a product page, they’d search for the exact product, i.e. “Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20”, because they already did their research and know what the product is (and probably first read about it on a blog).

Bonus Tip: The goal over time is to rank for the keyword that includes the word “best” in it, then eventually ranking for the keyword itself without “best”.

For example, in the instance of “best running shoes”, Runner’s World ranks #1. However, they also rank #1 for “running shoes” itself, which has a higher search volume. Try searching for products without “best”, like credit cards, webinar software, men’s boots, etc. Here, you see more real ecommerce brands on page 1, but there are still a lot of affiliates competing quite often.

Start with “best”, get links to your content, and you may eventually rank for the main term itself without “best”.

When I was an affiliate manager, someone smart once put it this way:

Affiliates are like an indirect sales team.

Find products that are being sold in your niche that you can rank for (and sell). Then, you can outrank the brands themselves and get a cut of their profits.

For example, even if Nike ranks on page 1 for “running shoes”, they can’t take up all 10 search results on Google. They have to work with other websites to scale their message. That’s where affiliate relationships come in.

It’s my favorite form of blog monetization and a way that I make over $70k per month. It’s the ultimate way to use your personal brand to take your power back.

How to find product review keywords:

The best method to find keyword revenue potential is to use the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer Tool. This is the tool I use to find new keyword ideas.

For example, let’s say you are targeting golf affiliate products.

Go to the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer and type in “best golf.”

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer Example
Source: Ahrefs

Now “best golf” by itself doesn’t make much sense and only has 150 monthly searches.

However, when you click the “Having same terms” button on the left, you can see all keyword variations that include “best golf” – this is where you find your transactional product keywords.

Source: Ahrefs

In this list, you get columns for the keyword, keyword difficulty, monthly search volume, estimated monthly clicks, CPC, and more.

From this single search, look at all of the easy potential review posts we just found:

  • Best golf balls
  • Best golf shoes
  • Best golf rangefinder
  • Best golf grips
  • Best golf irons
  • Best golf bags
  • Best hybrid golf clubs
  • Best golf clubs for beginners
  • Best golf GPS
  • best golf simulator
  • Best golf GPS watch

All of these have good search volume and low competition. From one quick search with Ahrefs, we just got 11 new product review blog post ideas.

Keyword research is easy. You just have to know what to look for.

How do you find a keyword’s affiliate revenue potential?

Go with your gut.

Honestly, this is what I do when it comes to affiliate marketing. There are a lot of factors to consider when promoting a brand and ranking for products.

All of the following factors dictate how much money you can make from promoting an affiliate product:

  • The price of the product: Higher prices make you more commissions, but a price that’s too high can lower conversion rates.
  • The reputation of the brand: Known brands convert so much better than unknown brands.
  • The company’s checkout and purchase experience: If this is a SaaS company that pays only on paid memberships, the trial experience has a HUGE impact on conversion rates and how much you make.
  • Commission rates: Your cut, which could be a one-time payment or recurring payment.
  • Cookie duration: How long you get credit for the sale after someone clicks your affiliate link. This is usually 30, 60, or 90 days.

It’s all a lot to take into account. And as a new blogger, it’s almost impossible to know which post is going to perform better than another.

That’s why if you’re starting a blog and find some product review keywords, just go for it.

Go after all 11 of those keywords above and don’t plan too much. Just try to hit every product review and a few of them will stick.

Bonus Tip:

I try to stick with products that sell for a reasonable price (between $50 and $150), that have strong brand recognition, and provide strong commission rates. You can see some average commission rates by industry in my guide to the 105 best high paying affiliate programs.

Bonus Tip #2:

You can also Google the term, go to a competitor’s site and click on their affiliate links. The #1 recommendation on a competitor’s article is usually the one making the most money, and you can click that link and see the price of the product they are recommending.

Why you should focus on product review keywords:

These transactional terms will make up the bulk of your affiliate marketing revenue.

Think about it this way.

Let’s say you publish a post: “13 Best Golf Bags of 2020 (Ranked and Reviewed)”.

In that post, you rank 13 different golf bags with full reviews, pros, cons, and features of each. Your #1 choice is the TaylorMade 2020 Supreme Cart Golf Bag.

Any time you mention the brand, use an affiliate link and send readers to their product page.

This could be an Amazon Associates affiliate link if the product is listed on Amazon. Or it could be a unique link you get by signing up for the TaylorMade affiliate program itself – it looks like they do have an affiliate program on Viglink – and pay 10% commissions on every sale.

Here’s an example of what one of my product review posts looks like on the best website builders. You’ll notice that most of the brands listed include affiliate links:

  • In the heading.
  • Within the content.
  • In a call-to-action button.

With these list posts, you should include at least three affiliate links per product/company. And include affiliate links for as many of the products as you can – all 13 if possible.

Making money with a blog is a number’s game. The more traffic you get to your posts and the more people that click your affiliate links, the more you earn.

For example, let’s do a quick math exercise on how much money your article on the “best golf bags” could make per month:

  • Your post on golf bags gets 2,500 visits/month.
  • Of those 2,500, 50% click on one of your affiliate links.
  • Of those 1,250 that clicked an affiliate link, 2% make a purchase.
  • Those 25 purchasers have an average order value (AOV) of $200.
  • Overall, you generate $5,000 in sales, and get a 10% affiliate commission of $500.

$500 per month in passive income isn’t bad at all for just one blog post on golf bags.

Here’s why affiliate marketing is awesome:

If you were to monetize this page with ads instead (and not affiliate links), you’d be lucky to get a $10 CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) or $25 per month. $500 compared to $25 is a 20x higher return from affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing has a much higher ROI than ad networks.

It focuses your keyword research on transactional keywords that matter.

That’s why it’s crucial when selecting your niche and coming up with content ideas, that you write about things that people actually buy.

I can’t stress this enough.

When conducting keyword research, don’t just look at vanity metrics. Find keywords with purchase intent and affiliate revenue potential.

Don’t just “do keyword research”, start by finding monetizable keywords based on “best” product review keywords.

Blogger Keyword Type 2: How-To Guides

A blog can’t live on product reviews alone. Sure, there are a lot of product review sites out there, but they lack personality. People don’t want to read solely about products, they want information.

To make your blog a true brand with raving fans, you need to be a teacher and craft an audience around the problems that you help them solve.

How do you solve their problems?

With informational “how-to” guides.

For example, let’s take a look at a search for “how to start a blog”:

How to Start a Blog Google Search

These are all affiliate bloggers teaching people how to start a blog.

And there are a lot of steps involved in the blog launch process. There’s planning, niche selection, signing up for web hosting, picking a WordPress theme, writing content, and a lot of other tasks that beginners need to learn.

How are these how-to posts monetized?

Pretty much the same way as the product review posts.

These bloggers almost 100% exclusively recommend web hosting companies like Bluehost and entice readers to click their affiliate links.

  • Need to start a blog? Well, you need web hosting. Here’s my Bluehost affiliate link.
  • Want to plan your blog? No need – just sign up for Bluehost and figure it out later.
  • Already have a blog? Why not start another one – click my Bluehost link.
  • Don’t want to start a blog? Not even sure what a blog is? Well click my Bluehost link and buy anyway! I have a special discount code that’s totally not the same as everyone else’s.

I, too, have a post about how to start a blog, but I try to make it highly tactical and cover much more on planning and niche selection before jumping right into web hosting – and I don’t say the word Bluehost until word 765 haha.

Ultimately, how-to guides are one of the main ways you as a blogger solve your audience’s problems.

And the key is you want to solve their problem with information, and a product as the solution.

You teach your readers how to do something by selling your own course or by selling someone else’s products via affiliate marketing.

Let’s go back to the golf example.

To research how-to topics to write for your audience, use the same strategy from earlier with the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer. Except this time, instead of typing “best golf”, type “how to golf.”

How to Golf Ahrefs Keyword Explorer Example
Source: Ahrefs

“How to golf” is a little broad on its own, but again, click on the “Having same terms” link to see all keyword variations that include “How to golf.”

How to Golf Ahrefs Having Same Terms Example
Source: Ahrefs

Again, we see a plethora of great ideas for golfing how-to guides:

  • How to swing a golf club
  • How to grip a golf club
  • how to drive a golf ball
  • How to hit a golf ball
  • How to chip a golf ball
  • How to put backspin on a golf ball

There’s six more good blog post ideas for our imaginary golfing blog.

Why you should focus on “how-to” keywords:

How-to articles build two very important things – traffic and trust.

First, a lot of people search for tutorials and how to do things online. If you look at search volume numbers with SEO tools, “how-to” posts get a lot of searches and can substantially increase your blog’s traffic.

Second, they build trust as you’re providing completely free information that shows your expertise and helps your readers.

A Google searcher may find your blog after searching “how to swing a golf club”, then they may read your product reviews and click an affiliate link, or they could join your email list and buy a course.

Review posts and how-to guides go hand in hand and are the two most important categories for bloggers.

Examples of These Post Types in Action

Just take a look at how some of the most popular blogs are structured.

Nomadic Matt will teach you how to travel the world on a budget, but you also might need travel insurance, travel credit cards, one of his guidebooks, or other products:

Source: Nomadic Matt

Yes, NerdWallet provides a lot of helpful how-to guides on investing and saving for retirement, but they make the bulk of their money with credit card and loan product lists:

Nerd Wallet Home Page
Source: Nerd Wallet

And even back to our golf example, you’ll see that One Stroke Golf ranks for “how to swing a golf club” but their menu directs readers to equipment and product reviews:

Source: One Stroke Golf

All three of these examples offer informational how-to guides to help their audience solve their problems and transactional product reviews showing the products they need.

It’s so simple.

  1. You provide information to help an audience solve a problem.

2. When teaching them how to solve their problem, you provide a transactional product as the solution.

Keyword research shouldn’t be a mystery; it’s easy. Just find the product reviews and how-to keywords in your industry and start writing.

Ultimately, ignore posts that just tell you to “perform keyword research” and instead find ways to generate ROI from the keywords you target. Go after “best” and “how-to” keywords.

The Keyword Research Matrix

So now that we know there are two main types of blog posts to write (product reviews and how-tos), let’s take it one step further.

Within this paradigm, all blog posts will also fall into one of four buckets based on the keyword’s search volume and level of intent:

  • Brand builders
  • Golden tickets
  • Diamonds in the rough
  • Uniquely you

I call this the Keyword Research Matrix.

Keyword Research Matrix

It follows simple math: For any keyword, the higher the search volume and the higher the search intent (transactional value), the more money you can make.

Search intent is the main goal a user has when they perform a search. Like we discussed before, a search can be informational (how to swing a golf club) or transactional (best putters for beginners).

Here are the four main buckets that your keywords should fall into:

1. Golden Tickets (High Volume, High Intent)

Features: High monthly search volume (over 5,000), high CPC (over $5), high competition, high affiliate revenue potential.

The combination of high volume and high search intent makes these keywords extremely valuable.

In other words, a lot of people are searching for something and they need a product to help them.

These are the keywords that all bloggers covet. They may be extremely competitive, but they have to be a part of your strategy if you’re a serious blogger.

  • In finance, some examples are best credit cards or best business loans.
  • In marketing, it could be how to start a blog or how to make a website.
  • In tech, the gold ticket keywords are terms like best web hosting or best website builder.
  • Others include keywords like best VPNs, best password managers, or best antivirus software.

Primary Goal: Affiliate revenue.

2. Brand Builders (High Volume, Low Intent)

Features: High monthly search volume (over 5,000), low CPC (under $5), medium competition, low affiliate revenue potential.

The second type of keywords are brand builders. This is the category most of your how-to guides will fall into. These keywords are searched often but don’t offer a direct and easy path to affiliate revenue.

For example, one of these keywords is “how to make money online.”

Source: Ahrefs

Its volume is 296,000 monthly searches – a very high number. However, the CPC is just $2. It’s a lower value because the keyword is broad and hard to monetize with a direct offer.

The search intent is tricky to understand. People want to make money online in any number of ways – taking online surveys, starting an ecommerce business, coupon clipping, investing – it’s not clear.

Since “how to make money online” isn’t directly monetizable with a clear product, brand builder keywords increase your traffic, position you as an expert in your niche, generate email sign-ups, and funnel readers to your other high-value blog posts.

Primary Goals: Traffic, email list, course sales.

3. Diamonds in the Rough (Low Volume, High Intent)

Features: Low monthly search volume (under 5,000), high CPC (over $5), medium to high competition, medium to high affiliate revenue potential.

Diamonds in the rough are valuable keywords that aren’t searched for that often. They can be very competitive with super high CPCs.

For example, take a look at the keyword “marketing automation software”:

Marketing Automation Software Keyword Explorer
Source: Ahrefs

This keyword is searched globally 4,000 times per month, a moderate number. The standout metric here is the crazy-high CPC of $50.

That means that brands bidding on PPC ads for the term pay around $50 for a single click. That’s a valuable keyword to rank for. And I bet you there are a number of affiliate programs in that space.

Primary Goal: Affiliate revenue.

4. Uniquely You (No Keyword Research Necessary)

Sometimes you need to throw keyword research out the window.

You are uniquely you and no one else can take that from you. You need to showcase your unique voice, life experience, and expertise to help your audience in the biggest way you now how. Go wild. Get creative.

Most of the time, that has nothing to do with keyword research. Just write a post to help, to share your life, to have fun, and to provide the most value to your readers.

*This post you’re reading now is an example.

These articles won’t get much (or any) traffic directly from Google. However, you feature them prominently on your content silos and category pages so that new readers find them, read them, and become raving fans.

Primary Goals: Raving fans, course sales.

To sum it up, just like there are two types of blog posts to write, every one of your keywords will fall into one of four buckets.

Keyword Research Matrix

So how does this all work in practice?

Writing Your First 4 Blog Posts

If you’re just starting a blog, write a post in each of these categories.

Let’s say you’re an amateur photographer and want to start a photography blog to make a little money on the side.

Here’s what your first four blog posts could look like (with the target keywords in bold):

  • 13 Best DSLR Cameras of 2020 (Ranked and Reviewed)
    • Type: Product Review
    • Bucket: Golden Ticket
    • Notes: This is a high volume keyword that could drive a lot of affiliate sales.
  • Macro Photography: Ultimate Guide for Beginners
    • Type: How-to
    • Bucket: Brand Builder
    • Notes: This term gets a lot of search traffic but isn’t directly monetizable. It could position you as an expert, build your email list, and help sell a future course. (There could be a few affiliate products to promote too).
  • Best PhotoShop alternatives of 2020 (Compared)
    • Type: Product Review
    • Bucket: Diamond in the Rough
    • Notes: This is a lower volume term, but could bring strong affiliate revenue.
  • How I Photographed the Milky Way with my iPhone
    • Type: How-to
    • Bucket: Uniquely You
    • Notes: This has nothing to do with keyword research and is all about telling your unique story and creating raving fans.

Writing a few product reviews, how-to guides, and a creative post for fun is great practice and the perfect way to start your blogging journey.

Advanced Keyword Research: Demystifying Keyword Difficulty

We covered a lot so far.

We’ve condensed keyword research for bloggers down to two article types and four keyword categories. And we’ve uncovered the importance of finding transactional and informational keywords based on purchase intent.

Let’s finish this article by demystifying keyword difficulty so you can better understand what you can actually rank for.

When conducting keyword research, the standard metric people look at is keyword difficulty (KD).

SEO tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz all may call this something slightly different, but the idea is the same. It’s a number from 0 to 100 based on how difficult it is to rank for a given keyword – 0 being the easiest and 100 being the hardest.

Here’s why I don’t think it’s a very good metric:

  • Sometimes keywords with a low difficulty score are very hard to rank for.
  • Alternatively, some keywords with a high difficulty score are easier to rank for.

Ultimately, your keyword research needs to go deeper than relying on a single number.

Here’s what you really need to do:

Who’s on Page One?

This is pretty simple too.

To gauge competition for a given keyword, look at the Domain Rating (DR) and URL Rating (UR) of the top 10 ranking pages.

These are Ahrefs metrics defined as:

  • Domain Rating (DR) is a number on a scale from 0 to 100 based on the backlink profile (and ranking potential) for a given site. Sites like Google and Facebook are 99/100. Brand new blogs are 0.
  • URL Rating (UR) is the same idea as DR except it rates the individual blog post (URL), not the entire domain.

First is Domain Rating (DR).

A 93 DR site like Forbes has a higher chance to quickly rank for something than my blog with a current DR of 78. It’s obvious why – it has more links and authority than my blog.

When you’re a new blogger, your DR is zero. You can raise your DR into the 30-50 range within 3-6 months if you hustle and get high-quality backlinks from guest posts and other link building efforts.

But DR isn’t everything.

If your DR is lower than a competitor, you can still outrank them with better content.

New bloggers should always focus on building up DR, as it helps all content rank over time.

Second is URL Rating (UR).

However, the best metric for keyword research is the URL Rating (UR).

When you publish a new blog post, your article’s new UR typically starts at 10. By getting more high-quality links to the individual post over time, the UR increases.

While 80s and 90s are considered extremely high DRs, 30s and 40s are considered high URs.

To see if you can rank for a keyword, look at the difficulty score, but also the DR and UR of the top 10 results.

Here’s how to dig deeper.

Low Difficulty Score, But Hard to Rank For

Let’s say you run an outdoor cooking blog. You write about how to smoke meat, sell some helpful BBQ guides, and recommend grilling products and accessories.

You research the keyword “grill accessories” in the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer:

Grill Accessories Keyword Explorer

It looks like a good keyword overall from a metrics standpoint:

  • There’s a high search volume with 7.6k global monthly searches.
  • The keyword difficulty score is low at 13.

Seems like it would be an easy way to get traffic, right?

Not so fast.

When you dig deeper, scroll down the page, and view the top 10 ranking sites, it looks more competitive:

Grill Accessories Keyword Explorer Top 10 Results

The top 10 ranking sites have Domain Ratings (DRs) of 61, 95, 90, 67, 79, 91, 88, 83, and 62. Even though Ahrefs gives you a low difficulty number, you’d have to compete with Amazon, Home Depot, Weber, NBC News, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home.

There is not a single low DR site ranking in the top 10.

Go to page 2 and the news doesn’t get much better – you’d have to outrank Lowes, Overstock.com, NY Mag, Walmart, Crate and Barrel, and Target.

While you could probably get on page 1 with a DR in the 50s with extremely high-quality content, the keyword is much more competitive than the keyword difficulty score of 13 leads you to believe.

High Difficulty Score, But Easier to Rank For

On the other hand, what about a keyword that has a high difficulty score, but might be easier to rank for?

Let’s look at the keyword “how to make money blogging”:

Source: Ahrefs

This one has a global monthly search volume of 11k and looks tougher to rank for with a keyword difficulty score of 68.

However, viewing the SERP overview tells a little bit of a different story.

The Domain Ratings (DRs) for the top 10 sites are 78, 77, 89, 58, 64, 70, 88, 41, and 86. So this time, there are two lower DR sites (41 and 58) that are still ranking on page 1.

How to Make Money Blogging Keyword Explorer Example
Source: Ahrefs

So from a Domain Rating and competition perspective, “how to make money blogging” with a keyword difficulty of 68 looks like it might be easier to rank for than “grilling accessories” with a keyword difficulty of 13.

While it’s not totally that simple and URL Rating plays a role to rank these individual posts, one thing is clear.

You need to take “keyword difficulty” with a grain of salt and look at the actual competition.

If you’re a brand new blogger, look for the following items to give yourself the best chance to rank:

  • At least one < 50 DR site in the top 10 results.
  • At least one < 20 UR page in the top 10 results.

Simply put, you need to know who’s on page one.

Executive Summary

Part one covered keyword research and niche planning for bloggers, proving that:

  1. Keyword research is easy.
  2. There are only two types of articles to write.
  3. There are only four keyword groups to target.
  4. Blog monetization and keyword research are inseparable.
  5. You need to know who’s on page one.

To sum it up, you need to stop doing “keyword research” – a black box of uncertainty. Instead, find “best” and “how-to” transactional keywords that solve a problem for your audience.

This was part 1 of my 3-part series Scale Your Influence.

Move on to Part 2: The Link Building 2.0: The Leverage Flywheel.

The goal of this series is to radically shift the way you view making money online so you can scale your influence at startup speed and achieve anything you want with your online business.

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